When you’re playing an online game there are a few crucial systems under your control that you depend on for an enjoyable experience. Your computer, your Internet connection, your input devices (no batteries here!), they all have to be responding adequately or one may be thrown through the other. On the flip side, the company providing the experience needs dependable servers, few latency spikes and, naturally, compelling gameplay.
What if the gameplay itself becomes frustrating?
I’m not griping about a challenging boss fight, the umpteenth FedEx quest, an unusual balance change or an encounter so unique or gimmick-driven that it’s outside the cultural norms. I am referring to actual gameplay systems that cause active inhibitions. In an MMOG, you can brush a nuisance game mechanic off. There’s plenty of other content to chose from. Worst case, you have to wait for the next batch of content. In a MOBA, that’s not possible. Unless the character is modified it’s possible to come across the “broken” design at any moment.
In a competitive game you want full control of your character. Opponents have an impact on your player, but shouldn’t be able to remove your abilities and capabilities from the battlefield. Imagine a shooter that has you run towards the enemy with a jammed gun. Or removes any sense of danger from your opponent while allowing them to rain bullets on your location. These acts are possible in League of Legends (Rammus) or SMITE (Freya). Sure, they’re the ultimate of the character, but it’s an ultimate that comes up every few minutes.
SMITE takes it to the next level. Since the addition of Thor months ago, Hi-Rez Studios has added three more characters that can remove themselves from battle to reign fury upon hapless opponents or use the move to escape. For Apollo and Thor that’s all they can do, remove themselves for a few moments and select fight or flight. That’s an acceptable ultimate.
The addition of Freya took it farther. Too far. The Queen of the Valkyries lifts into the air, removing her from the battle. During this short duration, she’s immune to any effects, positive or negative, as she glides around on magical wings. But, and here’s the poor decision, she turns into an artillery cannon, launching four volleys of magical pulses up to 65 feet away (formerly 80). For most characters, you’re completely helpless. When her cooldown pops you better hope she’s in another lane or you’ve support around you. Ne Zha, the most recent addition to the Chinese pantheon, takes it a step further. The Third Lotus Prince grabs an opponent and lifts the target up with them. Both characters are removed from the battlefield while Ne Zha cuts up his opponent before returning both to the field. Ne Zha’s ultimate is, thankfully, single-target and weaker damage than Freya.
SMITE is attempting to become a highly-competitive game in the MOBA scene. There have already been numerous tournaments held, including the $10,000 match at PAX East. These recent design decisions offer incredibly complex balance challenges for a title looking to go down that route. As a semi-competitive player, I hope Hi-Rez Studios limits the use of abilities that remove players from competition in the future.